A Home for Your Gnome

Gardening Advice from a Fan of Fun!

The Magic of Fire

December 26, 2023 | Design

Fire pits and Places for the New Year

Whoops! Just a tad late but I’m sure you’re kind of weary of that one. Plus, just how many of us have actually roast chestnuts? But “open fire”? Not that is timely. Yes, to the dismay of many (not this one), winter has officially begun. Sure, some of you are experiencing the post-Christmas blues right now but the way I see it this is similar to returning from a much-anticipated trip. Rather than be sad, start looking forward to the next journey or event.

As usual, I kind of jumped the rails there a smidge. Fire, yeah, that’s where I was heading. I believe I’ve written about the lure of fire pits and outdoor fireplaces in the past and for anyone with too much free time on their hands, feel free to excavate through my blogish history. However, who wants to dig when a fresh dose awaits you right here?

We have always been attracted to contained flames. I won’t go back to the beginning (or big inning for you baseball fans). But I am old enough to have faint memories of a brick BBQ in my grandparent’s backyard near Clarksburg, WV. I’ve even spotted a few of these relics around our pre-mid-century (1930s & 40s) neighborhood. And even though few of these are still functioning, they make me smile as I am one to try to hold on to the past.

Fire has always been a focal point in our backyards.

When I began teaching landscape architecture and garden design at The University of Tennessee in the late 80s the idea of a place to build a small outdoor fire in the garden was still a bit novel. I remember looking into city regulations to see what the rules where. “Controlled outdoor fires are permitted if they are deemed “ceremonial”. Hmmmm? A send off for my recently deceased goldfish, perhaps?

Decorative fire pits (or fire rings) have come a long way in their appearance since then. A company called Solo Stove even has a shiny smokeless version. As you may have gathered by now, I’m still pretty old school and I enjoy the forced exercise of staying in motion to dodge the prevailing winds /smoke. Plus, the fire’s glowing embers. Gas /propane devices are indeed more efficient and environmentally friendly, and they can be quite attractive, aesthetically. But I still prefer a fire that is dynamic and changing rather than becoming hypnotized by the same predictable flame.

Solo Stove smokeless fire vessel.

Portable fire pits are easily accommodated on existing patios with moveable seating. There have been a few times when asked to create a design for a larger piece of property, where I’ve suggested a more remote location to suggest a camp-like escape feeling. If you find yourself with such an opportunity, always consider safety and have a plan (a bucket or two of water) for being a little further from a water source.

On that same note of safety, have a look around before locating a fire pit. Ideally, it should be on a hard surface (decks aren’t a great choice although there is fire-proof heat-resistant mats that may be used). You should also look up to make sure there are no low-hanging tree limbs or power lines within reach of heat /flames as this could lead to an unfun experience.

I’ve designed some council rings (as historic landscape architect Jens Jensen would call them) that have had fixed seating around the central fire ring. This makes for a very social atmosphere, but the lack of flexibility and circulation have made me veer away from these amenities on recent designs. As a “real” (wood burning) fire pit’s intensity fluctuates it’s nice to be able to move either the seating of the pit itself to keep nearby knees uncooked.

A portable fire pit with moveable seating creates the most flexibility.

Lastly, I should toss into this rambling a word about outdoor fireplaces. These can make really amazing amenities, especially if you’re trying to add a bit of privacy. I’m currently designing a garden that is complete with the ubiquitous TV mounted above but my client was quick to point out that they also would like a fire pit which creates a more social vibe as not all are looking in the same direction (eye contact does still matter). Outdoor fireplaces also take a bit more of a bite out of one’s wallet than a smaller fire pit.

A bit more luxurious, this patio fireplace is for those who have a larger budget than I.

Okay. That’s all for now. I’m not sure this post has enlightened (pun intended) many of you but they sure are fun to write! Till next time.

Have a Happy and Safe New Year!

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